Traditional dishes shine at Asian Gourmet
A burst of flame gets everyone’s attention. Families seated around the grill murmur approvingly as the chef sears and slices steak with dramatic flair. A splash of alcohol on hot steel produces the fiery finale.
But the bigger thrill is taking place at nearby tables, where contented Mandarin-speaking families and couples tuck into a fragrant array of Chinese and Taiwanese dishes. Judging by the crowd, this Concord establishment is not a secret. Word travels fast down Route 2. Savvy patrons know the restaurant’s husband-wife chefs, Jet and Jean Lee, from Jo Jo Taipei in Allston and Formosa Taipei in Lexington. The pair have been in the kitchen since last October. And while the 200-item menu includes a few Americanized favorites like crab rangoon and General Tsao’s chicken, the standout dishes here are the traditional ones.
Asian Gourmet, three dining concepts under one roof, resides in an unassuming two-story building off the highway, next door to a Papa Razzi. A sushi bar occupies the second floor; the newly renovated ground floor, with cozy lighting and ruby walls, is in the style of a Japanese steak house. That’s where we settle in, avoiding crab rangoon and its ilk and the Japanese grill specialties.
Oyster pancake ($6.95), more omelet than crepe, is silky comfort food, a golden corona of pillowy egg cradling briny oysters and wisps of watercress. Steamed mini juicy pork buns ($6.95) are soup dumplings full of gingery ground pork. Lift one from the bamboo steamer and nestle it in a spoon. The first bite releases a rich steamy broth. Our Taiwanese-born dining companions think these dumplings are as good as any they’ve had. General manager Mei King Cheng encourages us to sprinkle them with Chinese black vinegar, but they’re delicious on their own.
A glance at other tables clues us into another popular choice — spicy noodles in soup with beef sirloin ($8.95). Spicy does not refer to chili heat, but rather to the star anise and garlic that infuse the meaty broth. Bright green baby bok choy and tender strips of beef sit on wheat noodles with a pleasing chew.
As its name suggests, “sliced beef wrap in scallion pancake” ($5.95) is a green onion-studded crepe rolled around thinly sliced meat. Its crunchy crust pairs irresistibly with the warm interior, savory and sweet from hoisin sauce. Three-cup chicken ($9.95) is braised in one cup each of soy sauce, cooking sherry, and broth, plus a generous handful of basil and ginger. The bone-in pieces are caramelized to a mahogany brown. Eggplant or tofu can also be prepared with the same method. House special crispy duck ($13.95) doesn’t quite live up to its description. While the meat is flavorful, the sauce obscures the crispy skin. Ask for it on the side.
Like many Asian restaurants, Asian Gourmet has a menu of specials hidden in plain sight. It’s written in Chinese on two chalkboards near the entrance. One special is ginger duck hot pot ($12.95). The long-simmered stock is full of duck, sliced ginger, goji berries, and slender lengths of ginseng root. It comes in a tureen for two, and sits on sterno heat.
Among the few sweet items are sweet soy custard ($1.95), a warm bowl of silken tofu floating in ginger syrup with peanuts.
We aren’t done, but our companions are already planning their next visit and what they’ll order. They have joined the ranks of happy guests for whom Asian Gourmet is an exciting Taiwanese and Chinese eatery — no show of fire required.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.